By Heather Skolnick
Now that the sun has set on summer and the leaves have completed their color transformation, cold temperatures are setting in. Fall and Winter are a good time to keep in our thoughts those who may not always have a hot meal or sufficient groceries available. Area soup kitchens and food pantries help provide that commodity to our community members who are in need.
The origin of the term “soup kitchen” is pretty straight forward–a facility where bread and soup for those in need was provided. They have been documented as far back as the 18th Century in Europe, and arrived in the United States in the late 19th Century. During the Great Depression, soup kitchens became an important salvation to those in need. In the subsequent years, they fell out of favor and didn’t re-surface in any significant way until the recession in the 1980s.
Today, soup kitchens and food pantries serve a very important purpose. They provide hot meals and/or groceries for those who would otherwise go without. While many may not realize, there is a significant need for this service in New Castle and the surrounding areas. The Community Center of Northern Westchester’s website provides the statistic “One in five residents in Westchester County is food insecure.” In 2011, more than 1,800 families took advantage of their services, providing 184 tons of food to those in need out of their facility right in Katonah.
The Community Center is a one stop shop for anyone who needs a little help getting back on their feet, providing clothes, supplemental food, English classes and help job hunting. A family can visit the grocery area up to once a month and can select groceries that will provide meals for four to five days. Their goal is to “take the edge off hunger and provide essentials,” says Community Center of Northern Westchester’s Executive Director, Sherry Wolf.
Between one third and one quarter of the food available in their pantry is donated by the community and community partners. The Community Center of Northern Westchester is supported by 31 different religious, civic and educational groups in the area. The Center has been serving 37 communities in Northern Westchester for 22 years. Ms. Wolf says that they are here for everyone and anyone–including “your neighbor next door.” They provide “help with compassion.” They have 300 volunteers who have done 50,000 hours of volunteer work. Help for your neighbors, by your neighbors. Some facilities not only provide food, but will also deliver healthy, balanced meals to those who can’t go to a food pantry in person. The Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry offers delivery service to those who need it. Roberta Horowitz from the Pantry said they currently deliver to 13 families, and serve approximately 250 families a week at their facility. This pantry allows people to shop weekly, selecting their own food among a selection of canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and bread from Panera. They are supported by 12 congregations. Clients must live in Mt. Kisco or surrounding areas that are not serviced by another weekly pantry.
Another option is coordinated through the Chappaqua Interfaith Council. The Interfaith Council has broad religious representation from over 20 different congregations. One of the organization’s initiatives is the Emergency Shelter Partnership which provides a place to sleep for up to a week along with a hot meal. Each religious house takes a turn hosting, with each facility participating one to two times each winter. This initiative was spearheaded by Reverend Paul Alcorn of Bedford Presbyterian Church in Bedford Village. Reverend Alcorn says of the initiative, “It got started about 10-11 years ago when several of us in the community became concerned because we knew there were people sleeping outside in the winter.
“Those in need gather at the police station in Mt. Kisco; a bus then takes them to the host congregation. On average, there are 18-24 people at a time being housed. Word of mouth and local police are leveraged to get the message out. Soup kitchens and food pantries are heavily dependent on volunteers. Chappaqua resident Elinor Griffith, a long-time volunteer among a variety of local organizations, suggests that giving back is “like a way of life” and that it unites a community. Volunteer opportunities for soup kitchens and food pantries are many. They range from working at the forefront distributing food to ensuring that there is both awareness of the need and knowledge of the food options for anyone in need. Sherry Wolf left me with these words of wisdom: “Demonstrate your compassion with your children. They model your empathy and become your ambassadors.” These are words to remember this time of year when many are in need.
Heather Skolnick, her husband Neal and their three children have been New Castle residents for seven years. Inspired by what she learned writing this article, look for them finding appropriate ways to volunteer their time as a family.
To volunteer or contribute monetarily to an organization that helps provide these services, some contacts are:
Food Bank for Westchester: www.foodbankforwestchester.org
Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry: www.mountkiscofoodpantry.org
Community Center of Northern Westchester: communitycenternw.org